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Abundance from the Desert

Classical Arabic Poetry

Raymond Farrin

Publication Year: 2011

Abundance from the Desert provides a comprehensive introduction to classical Arabic poetry, one of the richest of poetic traditions. Covering the period roughly of 500–1250 c.e., it features original translations and illuminating discussions of a number of major classical Arabic poems from a variety of genres. The poems are presented chronologically, each situated within a specific historical and literary context. Together, the selected poems suggest the range and depth of classical Arabic poetic expression; read in sequence, they suggest the gradual evolution of a tradition.

Published by: Syracuse University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi

Work on this project has been partially funded by a grant from the Sultan Program of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, University of California, Berkeley. Th e university library at Berkeley, meanwhile, has provided me the material for my research. It may be noted here that earlier versions of chapters 8, 10, and 11 have appeared in the Journal of Arabic Literature (respectively, no. 34 ...

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pp. xiii-xviii

Classical Arabic poetry, that is, the Arabic poetry dating roughly from 500 to 1250 CE, has, through the ages, been valued by the Arabs as a magnificent cultural achievement. Critics from the classical period regarded it as proof of the Arabs’ eloquence, a trait by which, in their view, the Arabs were exalted over the other peoples of the earth. Ancient compilers and anthologists recorded a vast ...

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Note on Translation and Transliteration

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pp. xix

The translations are my own, unless otherwise indicated. All the complete poems that are the subjects of individual chapters are presented here in new translations. Nonetheless, I have benefited from excellent previous translations in rendering the poems discussed in four chapters (1–3, 10).1 ...

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1 The Triumph of Imru’ al-Qays

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pp. 1-24

The first poem we shall read is the celebrated ode by one of the earliest, and certainly the most eminent, of pre-Islamic poets, Imru’ al-Qays (d. 542). Th e stories told about his life portray an audacious and magnetic personality of mythic proportions. He is said to have been the son of Hujr, the last king of Kinda (an ancient ruling tribe of Yemen that had migrated north and, at the time of the poet’s birth around 500, dominated central Arabia). Imru’ al-Qays’s ...

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2 An Outcast Replies

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pp. 25-45

Our second ode comes to us from the most famous su‘luk (brigand) poet of the pre-Islamic era, al-Shanfara. He is thought to have lived a generation before the Prophet Muhammad (b. 569/70) and to have been from the tribe of al-Azd, which occupied the coastal area to the south of Mecca. From his poems, we understand that at some point he off ended his tribe and was forced out into the desert. Th is punishment typically followed one of three offenses: disgracing the ...

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3 The Price of Glory

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pp. 46-67

Labid ibn Rabi‘a was a late pre-Islamic poet from the tribe of ‘Amir, which occupied territory in the high plateau of Najd to the northeast of Mecca. He was born in the second half of the sixth century and rose to prominence as an eloquent spokesperson for his tribe. During his lifetime, the new religion of Islam brought by the Prophet Muhammad (d. 632) spread across the Arabian Peninsula. ...

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4 Making the Remembrance Dear

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pp. 68-91

In this chapter we will discuss three shorter works by the preeminent female poet of classical Arabic literature, al-Khansa’ (d. ca. 646). Before recounting her biography, let us acquaint ourselves with some general facts about Arabic poetry composed by women during the pre-Islamic period (to which we ascribe the preponderance of al-Khansa’’s verse) and take into account the important ...

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5 Martyr to Love

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pp. 92-114

In this chapter we shall read a poem by Jamil (ca. 660–701), our first poet to have lived entirely during the Islamic era (begun 622). Th e era dawned with a series of stunning military conquests that further confirmed to Muslims, aft er the miracle of the Qur’an, the truth of the new religion and the reality of divine intervention in human affairs. It seemed manifest that God had intended Islam to spread and God’s community to prosper. What had begun as a small religious ...

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6 Flyting

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pp. 115-129

Our next poet, Jarir, was born ca. 653 in Yamama, the desert region of central-northeastern Arabia. He belonged to Kulayb ibn Yarbu‘ of the very large Tamim tribal group. Around 690 he moved to Basra, where he made a name for himself. His specialty was satire; over the next several decades he abused scores of fellow poets. Likewise, they satirized him. Aft er several decades of activity in ...

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7 Pleasure in Transgression

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pp. 130-149

In this chapter we shall study a wine poem (khamriyya) by the most famous libertine poet in Arabic literature, Abu Nuwas (d. ca. 815). Before giving our attention to Abu Nuwas, however, it would be useful to consider the immediate historical and literary backdrop behind him. ...

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8 The Poetics of Persuasion

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pp. 150-169

We turn now to an ode composed by one of the major poets of the ‘Abbasid era (750–1258), Abu Tammam (ca. 804–46). Abu Tammam was born near Damascus, where his father, a Christian by the name of Th adhus, kept a wine shop. At some point Abu Tammam changed his patronymic to Aws al-Ta’i, claiming descent from the tribe of Tayyi’, and converted to Islam. He spent his youth as ...

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9 The Would-Be Prophet

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pp. 170-189

In this chapter we shall consider the last of the three great ‘Abbasid panegyrists, al-Mutanabbi (d. 965), widely thought of as the greatest Arab poet (the Mu‘allaqa of Imru’ al-Qays, as we have indicated, is generally regarded individually as the greatest Arabic poem). Before proceeding, however, we will briefl y discuss the second major ‘Abbasid panegyrist, Abu Tammam’s successor, al-Buhturi (d. 897). ...

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10 Letter to a Princess

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pp. 190-213

Ibn Zaydun, the most illustrious poet from the nearly eight-hundred–year period of Arab-Islamic civilization in al-Andalus (711–1492), was born to a prominent Córdoban family in 1003. He received an excellent education in his childhood and early youth at the hands of numerous scholars. During the 1020s, as the Umayyad dynasty that ruled al-Andalus was struggling to persist, young Ibn ...

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11 Season’s Greetings

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pp. 214-227

Our next poet, Ibn Quzman, was born in Córdoba ca. 1078, and died and was buried there in 1160. Very little else is known about his life. Yet he is a major figure in the Arabic poetic tradition, recognized as the supreme master of the zajal, a vernacular, strophic genre native to al-Andalus. He distinguished himself as poet, moreover, by relentlessly parodying hallowed conventions. ...

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12 Ecstasy

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pp. 228-247

In this chapter we shall read poetry by Ibn al-Farid (d. 1235), the greatest Sufi poet in the Arabic literary tradition. To comprehend more fully his verse and consider it in context, however, we must first inform ourselves about Sufism and review the historical development thereof. ...

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13 To Egypt with Love

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pp. 248-267

Our last poet is Baha’ al-Din Zuhayr, a younger contemporary of Ibn al-Farid. He is not as well known as Ibn al-Farid nor as well known as any of the other poets from whose works we have read. In the past quarter century he has attracted scant scholarly attention, and perhaps by many readers and admirers of Arabic literature he has been forgotten. His poetry has a special charm, however, ...

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pp. 268-275

Having thus traced the course of classical Arabic poetry from the sixth century to the thirteenth, in locations from the East to the West, and through the major genres, we have reached a convenient stopping point. Proceeding chronologically, one crosses into what is considered the postclassical period. Th is age begins around 1250, with the establishment of Mamluk rule in Egypt in that ...


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pp. 279


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pp. 281-320


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pp. 321-322


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pp. 323-345


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pp. 347-364

E-ISBN-13: 9780815650959
E-ISBN-10: 0815650957
Print-ISBN-13: 9780815632221
Print-ISBN-10: 0815632223

Page Count: 304
Publication Year: 2011

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Arabic poetry -- 1258-1800 -- History and criticism.
  • Arabic poetry -- 750-1258 -- History and criticism.
  • Arabic poetry -- 622-750 -- History and criticism.
  • Arabic poetry -- To 622 -- History and criticism.
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